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Giants take changes in stride
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
In the final days of the San Francisco Giants' march to the World Series last fall, Peter Magowan said his team's accomplishments were a tribute to an entire organization, not simply the inarguable leadership skills of Dusty Baker. Because of the prior relationship between Magowan and Baker, many including Dusty, perceived the comment to be a slight -- yet another in many eyes toward the manager so revered by so many.
No matter how many times, right down to the afternoon of the seventh game in Anaheim, Magowan tried to explain that the Giants organization from Brian Sabean to the newest area scout does deserve credit for this remarkable run, it was perceived as owner-employee rhetoric. "To say that this is not a one-man operation is not a slight to anyone," Magowan reiterated on the field. "We've had a lot of success, and it's not simply the doing of Brian, Dusty, Barry (Bonds) ... any one individual."
Two weeks into the 2003 season, Baker has the Cubs on track to go from 95-game losers to contenders in the NL Central. But back on the shores of McCovey Cove, there are the Giants back atop the leaderboard. And not Dusty's Giants that had the Angels by five runs with eight outs to go in Game 6. No, these Giants have a new manager (Felipe Alou), a rotation with three new starters, a lineup with four of its eight regulars different and one of the decade's premier closers, Robb Nen, on the disabled list.
Let's see. Beginning with the '97 season when Sabean and assistant GM Ned Colletti took over, the Giants have the third-best record in baseball. They have finished first twice, forced a playoff for the Wild Card in '98 and gone to the seventh game of the World Series, never once scratching the upper class of payrolls despite having the best player of his time.
Are they very different with Ray Durham, Edgardo Alfonzo, Junior Cruz and Marquis Grissom in place of Jeff Kent, David Bell, Reggie Sanders and Kenny Lofton? Obviously. Is it different with Damian Moss, Kurt Ainsworth and Jesse Foppert in lieu of Russ Ortiz, Livan Hernandez and Ryan Jensen? Of course.
To rebuild, essentially retain the budget and contend meant signing three free agents, snatching a non-tender (Cruz), trading a higher-salaried pitcher who was a proven winner (Ortiz) for a young left-hander (Moss) and then have the farm system to come up with two starters (Ainsworth and Foppert). Add the ingenuity of finding the one man who could replace Baker.
"Putting this team together took a lot of ideas from a lot of people," Sabean said this spring. "Felipe was a gut thing. There are a lot of things about this game which require gut instincts."
What would be fascinating if the Giants and Athletics met again in the World Series is that it would be a contrast of successful philosophies. Where the A's are run by Billy Beane's analytical Wall Street creativity, the Giants are run by what Colletti says is "80 percent scouting, 20 percent statistical analysis."
And if they met? "It would be a tribute," Colletti said, "to the notion that there is no one way to do anything."
When one scans the list of Sabean's trades -- and this doesn't include the one he recommended during the 1994-95 strike that sent John Burkett to the Rangers for an obscure minor league shortstop named Rich Aurilia -- one sees that the record is remarkable. He's had the ability to recognize talent, like Kirk Rueter, Felix Rodriguez and Jason Schmidt, whom he saw as the potential ace he's now becoming. Sabean's also had the ability to judge his own talent; scan the list of players he traded, and except for Keith Foulke, there isn't a significant prospect that turned into someone he could regret. And the deal in which Foulke was included, it gave the Giants their first divisional title (in the process of building Pac Bell). Third, the Giant deals have been about people.
"When we go to make a trade, we obviously rely heavily on our major league scouts, Dick Tidrow, Pat Dobson, Ted Uhlaender and Joe DiCarlo, as well as are scouts (like Paul Turco)," Colletti said. "But we check out trainers, clubhouse people, traveling secretaries, managers, coaches, teammates and even PR guys that have been with them. Makeup is a big part of determining whom we get."
For instance, when they sent Matt Williams to the Indians, they knew it had to be the right trade considering Williams' place in San Francisco. It was Dallas Green who convinced the Giants to take Kent. Green managed Kent in New York and saw an outstanding hitter who played hard every day, but was misplaced on an "Animal House" team. Kent was a loner who liked to bring his wife on the road and go his own way.
If it ever came down to another Bay Bridge Series, not only would it be a testament to contrasting philosophies, but would be a reminder to Bay Area fans how lucky they are to have two of the best teams in baseball on a combined payroll that is less than that of the New York Yankees.Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories